“As businesses get back to work, tailoring best practice safety measures to the particulars of their workforce and facilities is an important step,” asserts Steven LaFevers, Vice President, Emerging Technology, Hyster Company, in an interview with ITBusinessToday.
ITBTBureau: As businesses are opening their offices, what steps need to be taken to ensure the safety of their employees?
Steven LaFevers: As critical supply chain operations continue and employees return to the workplace in the era of COVID-19, businesses are looking to apply the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to their specific workplaces and the nature of the work being done by their employees, such as in the department of lift truck operation and maintenance.
As businesses get back to work, tailoring best practice safety measures to the particulars of their workforce and facilities is an important step.
ITBTBureau: How to ensure that social distancing protocols are followed without increasing the fear among employees?
Steven LaFevers: As workplaces have adapted to the impact of COVID-19, optional in-person attendance based on employee comfort level has become a common practice for organizations that have begun returning employees to the workplace.
In addition to flexible attendance policies where possible, wearable technology can provide proximity alerts to encourage and simplify social distancing. It has emerged as a valuable tool to improve worker confidence as employees get back to the workplace and essential employees whose work must be performed in-person.
ITBTBureau: What are your views with regard to implementing proximity devices for social distancing?
Steven LaFevers: Proximity devices can be an effective measure as part of an organization’s efforts to encourage social distancing compliance, and also help take the burden of requesting safe physical distance in work settings off of the individual.
ITBTBureau: Collaboration tools today have become increasingly popular among organizations. However, as businesses reopen their offices, do you think their popularity will decrease?
Steven LaFevers: As economies adapt, it’s important that businesses have the necessary collaboration tools to get work done, whether that’s between workers in-person or online, or even between people and robotics.
For years prior to the pandemic, there has been a growing interest in warehouse robotics, such as robotic lift trucks that can autonomously move product throughout a facility without the help of an operator.
However, as the pandemic made maintaining distance between workers a critical measure, robotics and cobotic workflows, where humans work in collaboration with robotics, have become uniquely valuable.
As an example, a robotic lift truck can independently transfer pallets assembled by a worker within a distribution center, allowing workers to remain relatively stationary or contained to a particular area as they work, helping reduce worker-to-worker contact that could risk virus transmission.
ITBTBureau: How can businesses leverage innovative technologies to meet the industry demands, post the pandemic?
Steven LaFevers: While robotics and cobotic workflows have become especially attractive to help operations maintain safe social distance among employees and meet surging e-commerce and throughput demands during the pandemic, these innovative technologies will remain valuable well beyond the pandemic and its continued impact.
With the onset of COVID-19, consumer behavior quickly shifted even more heavily towards e-commerce and expectations of fast and affordable shipping, trends that are expected to persist well beyond the pandemic.
For supply chain operations, warehouse robotics pair consistent, efficient performance with strict adherence to programmed safety protocols. In the normal course of business, robotics will continue to provide operations with the opportunity to boost safety and productivity and improve retention—a major industry challenge—by automating repetitive, non-value-added tasks and focusing employees on more engaging, satisfying work.
As VP of Emerging Technology, Steven is responsible for the growth and profitability of Hyster-Yale’s comprehensive suite of technology-driven products and services that accompany materials handling equipment investments. The Emerging Technology suite of solutions includes market-leading offerings in Motive Power, Telematics, and Robotics & Automation.